The Solar Path Forward

Lighting_the_wayby James A. Bacon

Solar energy is economically competitive in many parts of the United States today, and it soon could become competitive in Virginia. The power source has a higher hurdle to overcome here than in many states — electric rates that are 13% lower than the national average, according to U.S. Energy Information Administration data. But relentless progress in the science of converting sunlight into energy suggests that solar will steadily erode the competitive advantage of other fuels, even in Virginia.

Over and above the fact that solar’s fuel source — the sun — is free, solar enjoys other economic advantages. Because residential and commercially generated solar electricity can be consumed in place, there is no need to invest in long-distance transmission lines, nor is there “line loss,” the leaking of electricity from electric lines. Solar panels also provide “peaking power” — they generate the most electricity in the afternoon when temperatures and electricity demand are the highest. And then there are the environmental advantages — solar power doesn’t pollute or emit CO2, the greenhouse gas implicated in global warming.

Solar power is so all-around awesome that Environment America Research & Policy Center has published a paper, “Lighting the Way: What we Can Learn from America’s Top 12 Solar States,” which makes the case that solar energy is good for consumers, the environment and the economy. The paper points to the 12 leading solar states for others to emulate. Arizona, the national leader, has installed solar capacity of 167 watts per capita. By comparison Virginia ranks 30th, with a mere 12 watts per capita.

Of course, Arizona is further south and has far fewer cloudy days, so one would expect solar to perform well there. But a less-than-ideal geographic location shouldn’t stop a state from installing solar, the paper says. North Carolina, which has lower overall electric rates than Virginia, averages 23 watts per capita, while Maryland averages 19.

“We have plenty of sunshine here in the state,” Lilias Gordon, campaign organizer with Environment Virginia, told the Richmond Times-Dispatch. “We just have to make sure we are capitalizing on it with good clean-energy policy.”

According to the report, here is what states and localities can do to encourage the use of more solar:

  • Local governments should adopt policies guaranteeing homeowners and businesses the right to use or sell power from the sunlight that strikes their property (establishing net metering and overruling covenants in homeowner associations), enact solar-friendly zoning, and adopt bulk purchasing programs for solar installations.
  • State governments should use their regulatory powers to implement rate structures that maximize the benefits of solar energy to consumers and support a smart electric grid in which distributed sources of energy such as solar play a larger role.
  • All levels of government should install more solar energy in government buildings.

The biggest obstacle to large-scale adoption of solar is intermittent nature of the power source. Electric output of solar panels very directly with the strength of the sun. Clouds reduce solar generation, which compels an electric utility either to find power from another source or to curtail consumption. The study acknowledges the problem.

In states where large amounts of solar or wind power are going online, one emerging challenge for regulators is ensuring that [the] grid remains stable when the sun isn’t shining or the wind isn’t blowing. In California, for example, where solar energy is growing quickly, the state’s major grid operator has warned that, by 2020, daily patterns of electricity consumption could change to result in the need for a rapid ramp-up in power generation each evening after the sun sets. … In order to keep the amount of power on the grid stable with increasing penetrations of solar energy, grid operators need efficient and flexible power resources that can mirror the variability of solar output.

California has taken steps to accelerate the adoption of battery storage technology. The idea is to capture excess solar production during the day, store it in batteries, and draw it down at night. Analysts are optimistic that battery storage costs will decline dramatically over the next five years. Who pays for that storage, and how much it will add to the cost of electric power use, is still hazy. Also, a reliance on solar/battery-driven electric system could collide with another environmental desiderata — the use of electric vehicles, which would recharge primarily at night.

Bacon’s bottom line: Solar is coming sooner or later, and Virginia needs to have a serious discussion on how to integrate it into the grid. “Lighting the Way” illuminates the wide array of policy options available to the state. But other than pointing to battery technology that may or may not materialize, it doesn’t seriously address the issue of grid stability.

From my semi-informed perspective (I know enough to be dangerous), we have to ask a fundamental question. Do we want to stick with our current model, which relies heavily upon large, centralized plants, including industrial-sized solar facilities, that shuttle excess power across a multi-state region over a centralized transmission grid? Or do we shift to a more flexible, distributed “smart” grid that incorporates a wider diversity of small-scale power sources. Put another way, do we go with a centralized, economies-of-scale model or a distributed, small-is-beautiful model?

We’re not having that conversation, and we need to.

There are currently 2 comments highlighted: 117000, 117023.

55 responses to “The Solar Path Forward

  1. Here’s my vote for distributed generation, at the household level where possible, with battery backup added as storage technology is improved. The General Assembly’s latest legislation in this regard is not helpful. It seems calculated to discourage homeowner solar arrays while keeping the field open to our established utilities. No doubt we’ll always need the grid and some centralized generation, but it would be a shameful waste to continue with the old economic model now that technology makes it possible to save so much in fuel cost and environmental impact.

    • Distributed Generation, or “DG,” is great stuff, as long as people (i.e., politicians) accept a few ground rules.

      1. the Grid isn’t free, and its cost must be shared by any homeowner who draws upon it AT ALL for backup.

      2. pushing the decision-making downstream to individual homeowners on such complexities as the most efficient way to design and build solar, how to best interface safely with the Grid, appropriate standards for homeowners’ associations and zoning boards, etc. is maybe best in the long run but horribly inefficient without years of education and consumer experience: compare to our extensive and totally frustrating experience with a much simpler concept like getting homes built with properly insulated windows and walls. The government has to be involved in creating the standards and incentives to builders to install all these features for buyers who, initially at least, won’t pay extra up front for features they don’t value because they don’t even know how to use them.

      3. DG CAN provide value-added TO the Grid, both as energy input and dispersed battery storage; but the price paid for these products should be market based, not subsidized. Save your government subsidies to defray the capital cost of the solar and interconnection facilities when they are installed.

  2. The Solar Path

    Lighting the Way is a good resource. Thanks for passing that along. As it illustrates, solar is a major contributor in states that have a moderate amount of sunshine. The National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) rates Virginia’s solar potential as being higher than Delaware, Massachusetts, New Jersey and about the same as North Carolina (four of the top ten states). Vermont is 8th in per capita solar use. Promoting solar in Virginia is not for lack of sufficient sunshine, but more about the lack of political will and resistance from utilities that prefer to delay adjustments to their business model for as long as possible.

    Residential solar is economic (in appropriate locations) right now in Virginia. This is usually the first application of solar in a state because the cost of solar is used to offset the highest retail rate. It would be much more quickly adopted if our utilities were more cooperative in dealing with net metering and connecting systems to the grid once completed; and for allowing third-party owned installations. Other states used renewable portfolio standards (RPS) to encourage early adoption of solar. However, the economics have been well enough established by now that states which do not have RPS’s need not bother with that step. Solar has certainly benefited from the 30% federal investment tax credit (and some states, such as North Carolina, have their own credits). Incentives have long been used to spur the early development of new technologies and solar is far less subsidized than the fossil fuel and nuclear industries. This credit is due to expire at the end of 2016 and the development pipeline is jammed up attempting to have projects in service by the deadline. A 10% credit continues for utilities after 2016 and some say there is a possibility that credits for small systems might continue in some (possibly reduced) form. Estimates of current projects show that about two-thirds of them are still economic without the tax credit.

    Solar for commercial users is also economic as evidenced by the 52 MW solar facility that Duke Energy is building in North Carolina and sending the power to two universities and a hospital in DC. This unit is also used to offset retail rates (as does the Amazon project). Sensible uses for schools and government buildings to save taxpayers money have been stymied by Dominion because they will not allow a third-party (who could qualify for the tax credit) to connect to their grid.

    Utility scale solar is the least expensive to build per installed MW, but the energy produced must compete with wholesale rates, so these projects are usually the last to be developed. Dominion has smart people and they know the trends in the industry. They have admitted that solar is likely to be the most cost-effective option for replacing the retiring coal plants.

    The nature of solar has brought new challenges to utilities. In California, a “duck curve” has now replaced the typical load curve from mid-day to early evening. The proliferation of solar has created lots of energy moving to the grid from mid-day into the early evening, so much so that in spring and fall, base load plants are sometimes turned back because the solar power is cheaper. As the sun goes down, units must be ramped up to continue meeting the load in the evening.

    Some see more widespread use of electric cars as a further drain on the system. Others, taking a broader view, envision that these vehicles can be used as mobile storage batteries. With properly equipped city and company parking lots, electric cars can be charged whenever there is excess solar power. This avoids the need for utilities to invest in more storage and provides a benefit for car owners.

    If we begin to consider our energy systems as a whole rather than discrete bits owned by different parties, we are more likely to develop a cheaper and more reliable system. Solar can be an important part of that overall solution.

  3. Jim, you mention NC’s good stats on solar as something for VA to emulate. I think we should also learn from NC what horrible damage can be done by recent (misguided IMO) cuts in State solar tax subsidies, and changes to undo some of the things done to make new-construction solar friendly in NC. All in the name of simplifying regulations and saving tax dollars. The horrible part is how much this blunts the fragile momentum toward solar just beginning to bear fruit in the NC developer community.

  4. ironically – it’s the cheap price of electricity that hurts solar.

    just a few years ago – it seems – there was talk of peak hour pricing because natural gas peaker plants were said to cost 7 times as much as coal to operate.

    now … much of the efficiency gains of solar have been nibbled away, i.e. who needs wind/solar when we have cheap natural gas?

    not giving up on 2nd or 3rd generation nukes – either.

    some day – maybe after most of us are gone – people will say ” what was all that hell-raising about back in the day about electricity?”! They REALLY used coal? that’s PRIMITIVE! they were neanderthals!

  5. I am looking at the “Lighting the Way” study and am curious why, if “the costs of installed solar energy systems have fallen by 60% since 2011,” it should continue to be necessary for the “Federal government [to] continue key tax credits for solar energy” or that “State governments should set ambitious goals for solar energy.”

    How far does the cost of this energy source need to drop before it can stand on its own?

    • you could say the same thing about nukes though.

      and .”clean” coal…

      the question is – is burning coal – subsidized? do you count the damage to the environment and people’s health as a “cost”?

      • I guess I could have, but I didn’t. I don’t question the jump-starting of this market that existing subsidies have assisted, I’m just asking how long THESE subsidies need to persist?

        Clearly, if Virginia wants, it can become a “leader” in solar, just by having taxpayers subsidize it, as North Carolina has done, or other electric customers subsidize those who install rooftop through excessive feed in rates.

  6. Larry and Rowinguy ask important and still unanswered questions.

    People who rush to embrace the Silver Bullet (solar) keep hopping over the apparent continuing need for two great additional expenses imposed by solar.

    Let call them solar’s ongoing twin need for subsidies, namely:

    1/ the increased need for a very expensive and complex baseline grid capacity to overcome and counter act the problems caused by our ongoing increasing of solar reliance whose inherent variability in power generation too often now can threaten service to those who use it and to everyone everywhere else.

    2/ The real cost of solar by reason of its still apparent need for upfront cash and/or tax credit subsidies. How much are they? When will they end?

    Meanwhile, how do you factor them along with the increased grid expense, and all the other risk factors into determining the “real price”, long and short term, of solar?

    As to the latter – There seems to be a threat of other potentially great unknown costs. Some are alluded to in comments of others above. The risks and costs of inter-rim grid adjustments (capital and operating costs) that safely and hopefully gets us from A to B (best case Silver Bullet Solar).

    Of course this includes the grand solution that is so powerful and so elegant and to date so illusive that it is perhaps the modern day Holy Grail: the highly efficient, very cheap, massive capacity, electric storage battery.

    In short is Jim Bacon still selling a dream? Or a glorious electric future just around the corner?

    Meanwhile: Forget Wind! It’s abominable!

    • All around, Reed, hear, hear!

      Once comment, though: on the subject of subsidies, there is a case to be made for subsidies by the State when the thing that is subsidized is activity by the general public that good public policy says we should promote. I agree, we should not subsidize large-scale power generators built by big corporate interests; but what about that homeowner who wants to put a solar collector on his roof? Should we give him a tax break to offset the capital cost? Should we give a developer the same tax break for building solar, or at least solar-capability, into the house? Should we adopt zoning/homeowner-association legislation that forbids the usual impediments to rooftop solar? Should we go beyond that and require rooftop solar in new housing (as in Israel, for example)? These are all subsidies of a sort, yet Dominion would not be the beneficiary, except insofar as the Grid was strengthened by the presence of more solar DG.

      • All good questions, Acbar. I would point out that in Virginia we DO subsidize (or at least incent) the construction of large generating plants by our two biggest utilities. Virginia Code Sec. 56-585.1 A 6 promoted utility construction of new generation by awarding the utility a bonus of up to 200 basis points on its regulated rate of return depending on the type of plant the utility built. 200 points for nuclear, 200 points for offshore wind, 100 points for natural gas, combined-cycle, etc. So, if the SCC found the fair rate of return for Apco to be 10%, the investment Apco would make in a new gas plant would get a return of 11%.

        That may not sound like much, but on a billion dollar investment, it adds up.

        • one curious thing. IF Virginia has some of the cheapest power in the country – why are we a net importer from PJM instead of an exporter for profit?

          • We are a net importer because Dominion did not build any large new base load plants in the state until the new gas plant that went online in December 2014. The load outgrew our installed capacity. Dominion must have done the numbers and decided that purchasing committed wholesale power was better than building new plants themselves. We don’t know all that goes into their decision making so it is just conjecture as to why this is the case.

            Dominion doesn’t have the cheapest power necessarily. They just have “rates” that are slightly lower than the national average. As I stated before, Dominion’s rates are higher than surrounding states (WV, NC, KY, TN) with similar operating environments. The national average is pushed up because of $.35 /kWh in Hawaii, $.20+ in Alaska and $.17+ in California. Dominion is taking credit for rates that are below the national average because we live in a mild climate without great seasonal extremes, which tends to increase rates.

          • The “net importer” is really a straw man. For instance, Dominion’s largest coal plant is in Mt. Storm, West Virginia. It serves NO customers in West Va, and is connected electrically only to Virginia, but these mWh are still considered (by some) as “imports.” The same is true of Apco. It has a service territory that crosses over between West Va and Va and most of its generating facilities are located in West Va, but Virginia customers have an equal call on those units’ output as West Virginia customers so.

            Tom’s comment is correct, but incomplete. Besides, it’s better to buy power out of PJM when it is cheaper than can be produced “in-state,” anyway.

          • so Dominion does not actually import power from outside it’s territory?

            how about the cooperatives?

            Is Dominion also supplying them or are they getting their power not from Dominion but others?

            bonus question – what powers the Eastern Shore ?

            do they have their own plants or do they buy from others?


          • TomH, that sounds right to me. Dominion for years has had nuclear and coal power at the baseload end of the scale, and lots of peaking power at the other end to meet capacity requirements, but a relative ‘hole’ in the middle. They filled that hole by purchases from their neighbors’ cycling units.

            For the past couple of decades Dominion’s participation in the PJM marketplace has made that sharing with the rest of the Grid easier. In fact there is no longer a need for any one company to have balanced power resources of its own for operational reasons; my former employer went to the extreme of selling off nearly all its generation to independent generating companies and buying all its requirements power needs from PJM. There are still financial reasons to build generation, however, and Rowinguy has touched on one of them.

      • Acbar – regarding your above comment on homeowner state subsidy, perhaps the subsidy should come with strings attached in light of you very valid point made below, namely that:

        “Solar users drain revenue while continuing to use utility transmission lines for backup or to sell their power back to the power company. How can power companies pay for necessary maintenance and upgrades of the grid if that free ride continues? “No less than the stability of the grid is at stake,” he says. So far regulators in Louisiana, Idaho, and California have rejected calls to impose fees or taxes on solar users.”

        Re Louisiana, Idaho, and California – one suspects that special interest politics and vote buying may have shifted the operating burden imposed on the grid by the new solar user onto the very taxpayers who footed the bill for the solar users subsidy in the first place. If so, then those states have imposed a double penalty tax on the traditional user, another example of an unfair imposition in a growing tradition of hidden fees and taxes being imposed by our progressively corrupted political class .

        That suspicion assumes that there is no offsetting gain to all ratepayers.

        • I think the idea of promoting this new solar technology to reach some sort of critical mass after which the cost will become trivial, has blinded people to common sense. Solar power, self-evidently, isn’t available all the time. You can either use candles or fall back on the Grid.

          Yet solar power promoters want to subsidize the ongoing use of solar generation by requiring the utility to credit the homeowner for power delivered to the Grid at the RETAIL rate (i.e., by running the meter backwards). This makes no contribution whatever for the cost of the Grid, i.e., for supplying backup power, which necessarily costs the utility more to generate and deliver than full requirements power (because there’s less of it to spread the fixed costs over).

          This isn’t a big deal to the utility at first, when the number of solar customers is trivial, but such practices can become entitlements unless the principle is established, early on, that even the solar-powered customer must pay fairly for the right to backup from the Grid. If there is a “death-spiral” potential here it’s very distant, as the quote acknowledges, but fair is fair. I think Dominion is right to try to stop this wrongheaded practice on principle, now, before it becomes an embedded customer expectation.

          Meanwhile I hope we see more solar power, including installed by homeowners, but if there’s to be a subsidy it should be paid directly to the homeowner in the form of a tax credit from the State, helping with the initial capital cost of the equipment, not indirectly in the form of an ongoing subsidized rate for electricity, the cost of which is assessed as a hidden tax on all other ratepayers.

          • The cost of residential solar energy is not subsidized in Virginia. Dominion purchases excess capacity from residential solar panels at a wholesale rate not retail. It is not like running the meter backwards. This rate is nearly always substantially lower than the costs of generating or purchasing the same amount of power from a peaking unit for example, so having residential solar on the system lowers Dominion’s (thus ratepayers’s) cost of energy.

            It is the cost of the grid connection which is subsidized by other ratepayers. Because of the current SCC rate, costs for transmission and distribution services (the grid) are billed based on your usage (kWh’s). A home with a solar panel gets less energy from Dominion so the amount billed for transmission and distribution is less. Dominion wants all of these costs to be reimbursed (plus a return to shareholders) so the non-solar customers have to shoulder more than their share of the grid expenses. This is an easy fix, other states have done it or are in the process of doing it. We can do it here too. But it is important to do it in a fair way that does not discourage development of solar.

            The only solar subsidy in Virginia is the federal investment tax credit, which is due to expire at the end of next year. As discussed below this is far less than the current subsidies that exist for other fuel types.

            Because of Dominion’s refusal to let third-party owned solar systems to connect to their grid, sensible applications for schools and government buildings cannot qualify for the credits. Dominion is keeping your local tax bill higher because of this policy.

    • “1/ the increased need for a very expensive and complex baseline grid capacity to overcome and counter act the problems caused by increasing solar whose inherent variability in power generation too often threatens service to those who use it and to everyone everywhere else.”

      The need for additional base load capacity is related to increases in demand not increases in the amount or generation from renewables. Base load requirements are roughly 35% of a utility’s peak demand. The variability of solar and wind is usually covered by gas-turbine peaking units which can be brought up to speed quickly. These are the cheapest of all types of plants to build, but they do not use fuel efficiently (30+%). Other solutions are coming in to play such as storage (from pumped storage or batteries) and demand reduction (where loads such as water heaters, air conditioners, etc. can be turned off for short periods), which avoids new plants.

    • 2/ The real cost of solar by reason of its still apparent need for upfront cash and/or tax credit subsidies. How much are they? When will they end? And meanwhile, how do you factor them along with the increased grid expense, and all the risk factors into determining the “real price” of solar?

      This is a common misconception about solar and wind – that somehow they have an unfair advantage over other sources. First of all, new industries are often given incentives to provide an additional benefit to the economy. Both solar and wind provide many more jobs than do other forms of energy generation, since their cost is entirely for labor and materials – not ongoing fuel costs. The U.S. has done very little to help establish solar manufacturing, which is why most of the solar modules used in the world are made in China or Germany. It’s as if we were in the early 1900’s and we decided that we didn’t think the automotive industry was going to be a big deal.

      That said the 30% investment tax credit is scheduled to disappear at the end of next year. A 10% credit for utilities will remain. Of the U.S. solar projects scheduled for this year, over 60% are projected to be economic if the tax credit did not exist. Projections for 2017 show a drop in solar installations if the tax credit disappears. There is some support to extend it, especially since renewables are the only feasible way for us to meet the CPP targets nationwide, unless we significantly reduce loads with energy efficiency. Slowing solar adoption would put us at a competitive disadvantage with other nations who would be seeing their energy costs decline with greater adoption of renewables.

      But the major factor that is almost universally ignored when complaining about subsidies for solar, is that fossil fuels and nuclear are much more heavily subsidized and have been for decades. The first federal tax break for the oil and gas industry came more than 100 years ago. The Intangible Drilling Costs (IDC) tax break still allows the industry to write off most drilling costs immediately, rather than at normal business depreciation rates. The Percentage Depletion Tax Credit, enacted in 1926, actually increases when prices go up, as it allows companies to deduct a flat percentage of income received from oil or gas wells, frequently resulting in tax deductions in excess of investment. This has been the largest tax break granted to any industry in the history of our nation.

      The Independent Petroleum Association of America describes the tax credit this way: “This deduction is a standard part of the American tax code that supports the development of U.S. oil and natural gas that would otherwise be uneconomic to produce.”

      Also, if the Keystone pipeline goes ahead; the refineries that refine that type of alternative fuel get a 50 percent investment tax credit. There are just a long list of tax advantages. And all of them are a permanent part of the tax codes. These and other oil and gas subsidies total about $7 billion a year in the U.S., according to Taxpayers for Common Sense.

      When coal was a start-up industry in the U.S., it was given tax-free status. Coal is still receiving $5 billion in incentives a year.

      State-level policies increase expenses for renewable energy project developers by making permitting onerous for new projects. In California for example, permitting has historically been almost nonexistent for fossil fuels, but has set a much higher bar for renewable energy.

      Permitting solar farms in California can be a three-year multi-million dollar process. Fossil fuel companies can simply declare on a one page form their intentions to drill. Land leasing costs are higher for solar and wind than for fossil fuels. Land leases for oil and gas were still at 1920s prices in 2009, when the Bureau of Land Management was setting market rates for the renewable industry.

      The coal industry pays land rents for natural resource extraction on land that has been undervalued since the 1800s. In the last 30 years, the treasury has lost nearly $30 billion in revenue by undervaluing public lands in Wyoming and Montana where coal is mined, according to Tom Sanzillo, Finance Director at the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis (IEEFA).

      Nuclear is by far the most subsidized form of generation in the U.S., yet new nuclear plants are still not close to being economically competitive.

      It is almost impossible to reverse permanent subsidies in the tax code. It has never happened in the U.S., so some solar advocates believe that a more practical solution would be: if you can’t beat them, join them.

      The coal industry’s Permanent Tax Credit (PTC) for producing refined coal is $6.71 a ton — in 2015. The wind industry’s $0.023 per kWh PTC keeps coming and going every few years. Renewables have been stymied by on-again off-again subsidies that almost seem designed to scare off investors, because none are permanently in the tax code the way fossil fuel subsidies are.

      If the ITC and PTC were permanent, renewable investment would be more predictable, so supplying equipment for projects and capital cost would be less, bringing generation costs down. While some investors are able to tolerate the risk of buying into renewables projects without knowing whether the tax credits will still be there when their projects reach fruition, many cannot.

      Because subsidies for fossil fuels are permanent, the effect is much greater, because permanence provides a stable and predictable investment environment not given to renewables.

      One way to create a level playing field with fossil fuels would be make the subsidies for wind and solar just as permanent as those for fossil fuels. Either that, or remove all subsidies for every form of fuel, something very unlikely to happen because costs for non-renewable generation would rise substantially.

      • TomH-

        Thank you for your very straight forward and informative response to my question: “The real cost of solar by reason of its still apparent need for upfront cash and/or tax credit subsidies. How much are they? When will they end? And meanwhile, how do you factor them along with the increased grid expense, and all the risk factors into determining the “real price” of solar?”

        It moves the conversation ahead in a most positive and helpful way.

        Having been a real estate developer who built new office buildings in N. Va, and who also restored old buildings in DC, I’d be a hypocrite to cavalierly attack tax credits and/or depreciation allowances.

        So, for instance, I am fully aware of the benefits rendered by the 1976 Historic Tax Credit Act. It saved many a great historic building in DC. Without that tax credit much of the irreplaceable historic fabric of the Nation’s Capital would have been destroyed in the late 1970s and 1980.

        Indeed without it each of those great buildings saved within DC, many of them a monuments to significant parts of our nation’s culture, life style, governance, technology and/or other elements of American genius ranging from war to politics to law to military endeavor, would have been obliterated forever from the nations remembrance and experience, living memorials reduced to dust forever in an hour by some selfish persons mindlessly destructive swings of a wrecking ball into our civilization.

        I believe it is true that my first historic preservation effort, known as the Bachelor Apartments on H Street, was the first building to qualify for the National Register of Historic Places under that tax act (or very close to the first). It’s for sure that that building and our later Sun Building that was similarly designated would not have been commercially viable without the benefits of the tax credit act if only because our concept was so novel then.

        (Indeed many considered our efforts to be a “crazy fool’s errand”, our trying to turn those two dilapidated old buildings that by then had been abandoned by all inhabitants except only the pigeons then roosting inside, into Grade A first class buildings that could complete with the newest and best in town.)

        Fortunately, my partners and I got the last laugh on both ventures. The Bachelors Apartment, once restored to its former glory, got the highest rents achieved to that date in the entire history of Washington DC. And soon thereafter it was occupied by the outgoing Secretary of State for his law offices. The Sun Building (containing the Nations oldest Federal Agency hearing room, and considered by some to be the oldest skyscraper still standing) did precisely the same financially, instead of being reduced to worthless dust.

        So the new Tax credit Act jump started the imagination and effort that achieved these otherwise impossible results, and also brought into reality a great long lasting revolution in national historic preservation of historic buildings that remains strong and vibrant to this day .

        So I am all for Tax credits and for rapid depreciation schedules too when they are built on policies that are grounded in serious efforts to jump start great and critically necessary change. Most people doing revolutionary things take great risk trying to do things that have the potential to bring others (who take no risk) great awards, or that otherwise will not or can not be tried at all. This also holds true for may things, drilling wells for oil, for example. Most of those go bust in order that we might find the few that an entire nation needs to survive. So those write off (tax and otherwise) serve a valuable public interest.

        We of course know what the problem is. How policies that were originally put in place to temporarily juice critically important and time sensitive endeavors seem never thereafter to be put to an end, but instead are only enlarged and continued long after the critical need for jump starting the otherwise impossible has long ago since expired. And we know too that far too often the money keeps flowing simply for the purpose of buying votes and buying election results and other political favors, one of the oldest and most intractable games in DC.

        As concerns Renewable energy generally, I fear many of these programs have been and are now so being abused. At least when when we gave money away to help build a nuke power plant we got nuclear power in return (20% of the nations total day in and day out since the 1970s). With renewables we got nearly nothing for 40 years despite massive expenditures. Somehow I suspect that we could had gotten today’s same exciting prospects and possibilities while paying a whole hell of a lot less in wastage and for crony capitalism results over the past 40 years.

        How to fix this? We are not changing human nature any time soon. But perhaps it would be useful to review the record with renewables, establish some facts – the good, the bad, the ugly – tote up the score, learn some lessons, and try to arrive at some antidotes that improve things happening in the future.

        • Reed,

          Thank you for your thoughtful response and thank you for saving all of those magnificent buildings. I remember reading about the Bachelors Apartment as a fine example of the early effort to save historic buildings. Well done!

          There were several reasons for the prolonged development of solar. It was much harder to develop an entire infrastructure for a new industry than people at first estimated. Manufacturing, public awareness, qualified installers, etc. took time to develop. Energy investment requires much more capital and a longer development period than tech companies, so VC’s were slow to come to the party.

          The main thing that delayed things was the up and down price of oil and gas. When we had the oil shocks and prices skyrocketed attention would focus on alternatives and investment would move into that arena. Sooner or later oil and gas prices would fall, the new solar businesses would fold and we would have to start all over again when the next price hike came.

          Europe and Japan overcame this with substantial government subsidies for solar and wind. They had much higher energy prices and fewer natural resources so renewables had much greater strategic importance to them. Europe used the feed-in tariff, which set the price from renewable sources many times higher than the prevailing energy price. This gave the fledgling industry a market and revenues to continue development. The difference between the tariff and the market price was subsidized by the government. To their credit they reduced the tariff as the prices of renewables approached market prices. Without such ambitious government support Europe would not the large contribution from renewables that exists today.

          I think this is an appropriate use of government incentives. Many new industries that will provide a long-term advantage in prices and employment need a little help getting started.

          I agree with you that this “benefit” to an industry should have a specific life span. One that could be extended if conditions warrant, but not so they become a permanent advantage. The intent behind government incentives should be that they benefit the entire population not just a small group of owners.

  7. want to know when Dominion can see trouble on the horizon? When islands no longer get their power from diesel generators except at night.

    I would posit that it’s not when solar can compete with coal that it starts to accelerate. Solar proves itself (or not) where power costs 50 cents kwh and is generated by burning oil.

    • Releasing its Renewables Readiness Assessment (RRA) reports for three South Pacific island nations – Fiji, the Marshall Islands and Vanuatu – IRENA (International Renewable Energy Agency), concludes that tapping into solar, wind, geothermal, marine, biomass and biofuel energy would not only meet electricity needs, it would reduce energy costs, create gainful employment, broaden energy access, and set these and several islands in the Caribbean firmly on the path towards sustainable energy self-sufficiency.

      Hawaii will become predominately solar when they can sort out their regulatory issues (and perhaps the sale of the existing utilities).

      Although Kodiak Island, the second-largest island in the United States, relied on hydropower for 80 percent of the electricity production, it was also burning 2.8 million gallons of diesel per year, at an annual cost of $7 million. In the face of climate change and high electricity costs, the board and managers at Kodiak Electric Association (KEA) set a goal of producing 95 percent of the community’s electrical needs with renewable energy by 2020. They actually arrived there well ahead of time, and are now 99.7 percent renewably powered by wind and hydro.

      Bonaire (pop. 14,500), a small island off the coast of Venezuela provides the majority of their electricity from renewable energy. For the residents of Bonaire, the switch from fossil-fueled to renewable energy systems has made a world of difference.

      The Carbon War Room and Rocky Mountain Institute are teaming up on a project called Creating Climate Wealth—The Ten Island Renewable Challenge. They’re setting out to show the world what’s possible and set an example for moving toward a renewable energy future. More than a dozen Caribbean islands have signed on to create a renewable, reliable, secure, and affordable energy supply for their citizens.

      Challenge participants include Antigua & Barbuda, Aruba, the British Virgin Islands, the Cayman Islands, Dominica, Grenada, Puerto Rico, San Andres (Colombia), St. Kitts & Nevis, St. Lucia, St. Vincent & the Grenadines, Turks & Caicos, and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

      • I’ve read around also but unless I missed it – I don’t see any islands with substantial solar as part of their generation mix.

        and you’d think at 40-50 cents kwh that Solar could EASILY compete – at least during daytime but so far.. mostly talk.

        the other thing – on those island – you’d ALSO THINK they would be heavy duty into demand-side efficiencies..


        • Just look at the percentage of total demand that is provided by solar in Hawaii (the highest in the US). The portion that is provided by solar hot water units probably does not show up, but it is significant. This is happening today and would be far greater if the utilities had not halted further connections because of issues with stranded costs and other issues. Some islands have residential rates that are up to $.35 /kWh. Solar made sense there years ago and was used on many homes when I was there from 2000 – 2005. Demand side efficiencies (except for appliances) don’t work too well because there is not much to cut out (except for A/C on Oahu and Maui). We used electricity for what the solar hot water couldn’t provide for laundry, dishes and showers and for lights at night. We had no heat or air conditioning. Bills were $150 -$200 per month for minimal use.

          I am not sure what your point is. Are you saying because you don’t see many islands using solar that solar is not cost-effective? Read the articles. It is happening today. Implementation was delayed not because it didn’t make economic sense – it was because there were no qualified installers and no easy way to provide the initial capital to complete the projects they knew would save them tons of money.

          Call a solar installer anywhere in Virginia. Ask them what the typical payback time for an average residential solar system is. Most would say it is about 8-12 years. This means you are saving on your electric bill from the first day and you use that savings to pay for the system. After 10 years, for example, you have paid for the system and for the next 10-15 years (which would be the balance of the warranty, but the system would likely last longer) your electricity from that unit would be free. Solar is competitive in Virgina today.

          The policies that have made it successful in states that have less sunlight than we do are missing in Virgina.

          • I’ll respond in a few minutes.. on the phone now.

          • I’m saying that until I see islands incorporate solar as an integral and seamless part of their grid- I would wonder why it has not got that far yet.

            I think as long as solar is views as something – not automatic and requires special handling – that it’s not there yet.

            I would draw a similar comparison to a backup generator that you have to walk out to the garage and run cords from it to your appliances verses a backup unit that automatically takes over when the grid drops.

            that kind of functionality with regard to solar. It just is another input to the power coming into your house and there are folks who come out and do periodic upkeep and maintenance on it and repairs.. you have a master controller – and a logger (like the backup unit) that someone can come look at and insure it’s been operating per specs , etc.

            solar becomes an “add-on” like a back yard pool or upgraded appliances, etc just another extra-cost accessory that adds value to the house … etc but pays for itself.

    • I’m puzzled by comments which seem to consider solar as a minor factor for energy production that might have value “someday”. Perhaps it is because Virginia is an anomaly compared to other states in its lack of support for renewables and we don’t see the rapid development of solar that is going on elsewhere. The U.S. Solar industry achieved another record year in 2014, growing by 34% over 2013 to install nearly 7,000 megawatts (MW) of solar electric capacity. Within the photovoltaic (PV) sector, over 6,200 MW of capacity was installed, led by the residential and utility segments, which grew by 51% and 38%, respectively. In 2104 the solar industry installed 32% of all new electricity generating capacity in the U.S. – second only to natural gas.

      About 20,000 MW more solar capacity is forecast to come online by the end of 2016, doubling the country’s existing solar capacity. Growth is expected to be broad-based, with more than 16 states expected to add more than 100 MW in 2016, up from 9 states in 2014. However, with the upcoming expiration and reduction of the Investment Tax Credit, additions of new solar capacity is expected to decline by 57% in 2017 compared to 2016.

  8. Theres also a newish word in the lexicon – microgrid

    “A microgrid is a discrete energy system consisting of distributed energy sources (including demand management, storage, and generation) and loads capable of operating in parallel with, or independently from, the main power grid.”

    To understand how a microgrid works, you first have to understand how the grid works.

    The grid connects homes, businesses and other buildings to central power sources, which allow us to use appliances, heating/cooling systems and electronics. But this interconnectedness means that when part of the grid needs to be repaired, everyone is affected.

    This is where a microgrid can help. A microgrid generally operates while connected to the grid, but importantly, it can break off and operate on its own using local energy generation in times of crisis like storms or power outages, or for other reasons.

    A microgrid can be powered by distributed generators, batteries, and/or renewable resources like solar panels. Depending on how it’s fueled and how its requirements are managed, a microgrid might run indefinitely.”

    this is more than a concept – the U.S. Military are now converting their bases to be able to operate independently of the grid –

    ” Military Marches Forward With Microgrids”

    as has been true with many of technologies we all take for granted – more than a few were born in the military…. GPS is the most apparent but the military is the premier R&D operation in the world and they have bases far flung and in places where the “grid” is not as reliable or capable as it is in the US.

    and they are using solar and wind as well as storage batteries.

    Hospitals are the first non-military adopters but larger commercial operations that run 24/7 and cannot go “down” are also starting to adopt.

    Walmart is looking into microgrids so they can continue to operate when there are grid outages…

    it’s looking more and more like Dominion is essentially acting like Kodak, Blockbuster and others who have failed to heed changes. It’s not that they are in denial per se – it’s that they are not embracing the changes – they are “going along” when it makes sense to them – reacting to, “trying it out” – rather than exhibiting leadership and strategic planning.

    that’s where the SCC is also. They seem to be more about protecting and preserving the existing utility business model – than looking ahead the changing landscape and laying the groundwork for change.

    instead they are essentially throwing roadblocks in the guise of “cheap power” being the sole criteria. Using that logic – and people do – one would keep a car for 25 years or never replace their heat pump, etc – just do the minimum cost-wise to keep operating and investments are limited to short term goals even if there are long term consequences.

    • Larry, this is utter B.S. and I can’t believe you would repeat it with a straight face. Actually, maybe you don’t have a straight face but are laughing your head off. You know perfectly well nobody is going to spend the capital to set up a “microgrid” that can operate separately from the rest of the Grid unless there was already a strong incentive to group generation and load together locally, like in an isolated industrial park or military base. As for “they are essentially throwing roadblocks in the guise of “cheap power” being the sole criteria,” I guess you are right, the greatest obstacle to people wanting to bypass the local power company is when the local power company provides its services at such a cheap price that nobody can beat it. So, throw me in that “briar patch.”

    • The military microgrid market will produce more than 54.8 megawatts (MW) of capacity by 2018. This is for bases all over the world, not just the U.S. However, the Department of Defense is undertaking an aggressive program to make their bases more energy efficient and energy secure. They are completing a project at the Oceana Airbase near Virginia Beach that will save $6 million per year in energy costs, using equipment retrofits and energy efficiency. Also multiple microgrid projects are underway.

      Establishing a microgrid does not mean that all of the necessary power is produced within the microgrid (although that could be the case), but it does allow the microgrid to be “islanded” or isolated from the remainder of the grid when there is an outage. This allows those within the microgrid to continue operating at some level of power until service to the larger grid is restored. Certain resources within the microgrid such as distributed generation, storage, etc. can also be bid into the PJM pool and the revenues can support the cost of developing the microgrid.

      Think of the long-term demand trend for Dominion as the Virginia military bases and major commercial complexes begin to establish their own microgrids, with reduced demand due to efficiency improvements and customer owned distributed generation to reduce costs and improve reliability. Dominion can attempt to postpone this, but it is the wave of the future. They would be better off being part of the conversation now rather than having to play catch-up with an out of date system years from now.

      • An international grouping of military bases’ loads is not a grid in any functional, operational sense. On the other hand, if the base or bases are truly prepared at all times to become “islanded” and operate independent of the Grid, I have to ask why it remains connected to the Grid. The answer, of course, is that it’s cheaper to buy from the Grid. Well then, why go to all the trouble of maintaining such independent capability? I think what’s going on has more to do with emergency electrical capability which is what every commercial customer considers doing, and many institutions like hospitals do, all the time. “Microgrid” in that context is a totally misleading term!

        • Microgrids are just small grids nested within the larger grid. They can be a single building or a complex of buildings such as a military base, a college campus, a government office complex or a retail center. The microgrid is connected to the larger grid at all times but includes smart switches that can isolate it from the larger grid when there is an outage.

          Microgrids make the most sense when they contain some form of distributed generation (which could be of many types) or storage. Usually the distributed generation gives them a lower cost of energy during normal operation and an emergency source when the larger grid goes out, even if they have to do some load reduction to keep things going.

          A sensible business case can be made for microgrids in many locations and they will be growing throughout the U.S. If we have a regulatory climate which discourages their development, businesses will locate elsewhere. This could be an attractive revenue source for those utilities intelligent enough to develop an appropriate rate structure to support it. Otherwise ESCO’s (independent energy service companies) will take over the market. If we prohibit this in Virginia we will only hamper our business economy.

    • That article contains this paragraph: “Anthony Earley Jr., CEO of giant Pacific Gas & Electric, doesn’t share Crane’s timetable for the coming disruption—he thinks it’s further out—but he does agree about the seriousness of the threat. Solar users drain revenue while continuing to use utility transmission lines for backup or to sell their power back to the power company. How can power companies pay for necessary maintenance and upgrades of the grid if that free ride continues? “No less than the stability of the grid is at stake,” he says. So far regulators in Louisiana, Idaho, and California have rejected calls to impose fees or taxes on solar users.”

      Exactly so. There is no free lunch. If people want to have solar power, fine; but if they ALSO want to fall back on the Grid at night and every cloudy day, they MUST pay for the privilege of backup power. Only if they truly choose to go off the Grid entirely can they avoid that responsibility. And as long as they are using the Grid, even intermittently, they must pay their fair share to maintain and operate it.

      • re: LMAO with a straight face – on micro-grids

        do you remember when GPS was too expensive ? How about wi-fi- routers or cell phones?

        what I’m saying is that the initial emergence of micro-grids portends an inevitable evolution like other technologies that started out high-dollar and got a lot cheaper.

        If WalMart does it today – what happens in ten years? Do companies
        get started that sell the “kit” for residential ?

        remember – I’m also the guy that says we’ll KNOW when solar IS ready for prime time – because we’ll see it because a standard feature on islands that currently depend solely on diesel generators.

        we just had every fluorescent light swapped out for LEDs in the local school system by a company that GUARANTEED with a bond that the lights would pay for themselves in 3 years or less.

        in terms of subsidies for capital.. I’m actually not a big fan because they tend to encourage abuse and draw bad actors selling stuff that doesn’t deliver as promised. It would have to be strict – capped and only for certified equipment and certified companies.

        we already see what subsidies for loans has done to higher ed.

        I notice that the energy tax credits have changed dramatically over the years – steadily going down and excluding more and more of what is eligible. I support that.

    • “Why the U.S. Power Grid’s Days Are Numbered”

      I think the title of this article is unfortunate. A more correct title would say, “Why the U.S. Power Grid (as it exists today) Days Are Numbered”

      For example, a quote in the article says, “Some customers, particularly in the sunny West and high-cost Northeast, already realize that “they don’t need the power industry at all,” This is foolish thinking. The cost for a homeowner to become completely self-sufficient requires a much larger solar panel, plus expensive batteries and other equipment compared to building a system that allows them to save on their electric bill. The cost of a system that would allow you to have sufficient power after three heavily overcast days (not uncommon) would be extremely high.

      That is the value of the grid (which includes the long distance transmission system and the local distribution system). We need to shift our thinking about the grid. It’s time for a different model to emerge.

      I liken it to time when we shifted from the mainframe centered world to the world of networked personal computers. I remember arguing with colleagues who said the mainframe model will last forever and personal computers were just a passing fad. The true power of personal computers was realized when the internet was developed. The internet allowed the mainframes (now mostly server farms) to play a role based on their strengths, while allowing the PC’s to play to their strengths.

      I think it would be useful for all of us to envision the grid as a network for the transmission of both energy and information. The owners and operators of the network need to be properly compensated for the value of their services. Net metering skews this and places an unequal share of the costs on customers who do not have a solar panel. Several utilities and rate makers have put together new rates which more fairly reflect the value of the grid while still creating an environment for distributed generation to flourish.

      Some utilities are trying to enact high charges for the grid connection that discourage solar development. Fairness can be worked out, especially if the program is properly explained and developed with customer input. When we purchase a car, we make the same monthly car payment for the value of having access to transportation regardless of how often we use the car. The same is true of the grid.

      In this way, power from large central station generating plants can distribute their power, and excess power from distributed generation could also have an outlet. The best outcomes always occur when you optimize the whole system. When you try and optimize individual components the system becomes sub-optimal.

      The change in outlook must occur within utilities, their customers and regulators. We should understand that it is not easy to change ways of doing business that have existed for decades.

      • well.. you’ve got folks who do live “off grid” but it’s not the life you’d have if you were on grid – no question about it and if you think you can live off grid – in the same way you’d live on grid – you’re not playing with a full deck – I agree.

        Having said that – the folks who made mainframes just like Kodak – continued to make AS400s and DEC frames – and truth be known – up here in Spotsylvania county – they’re still hooked into a contract with a company that maintains their AS400 and their RPG and COBOL stuff!

        Kodak had a similar problem and never gave up until folks stopped buying … ditto Blockbuster… Radio Shack .. and quite a few others.

        it’s the short list of companies that planned strategically to transition their business models , the rest got whacked by disruptive innovation.

        You would think the perfect pivot for utility companies would be to get into the solar business as long as there was customer demand for it even if the utilities companies knew is was not such a good deal -as long as people are willing to buy it – what better way that to have a utility-certified system?

        It would not be the first time in history that a new car salesman sold a car based on something other than facts! sure it gets 45mpg..!!!

        I thought it was a win-win when REC said free water heater repairs if you put in a controller box… made perfect sense.

        I’d be just as happy if they’d come out and do an energy audit and identified the biggest electricity eaters so I could look for a more energy efficient replacement and do the cost-benefit.

        Id be fine if they sold whole-house surge suppressors … or even backup-generators … and solar panels.. perhaps as an integrated system.

        If utilities sold cars – they’d refuse to sell hybrids, eh?

        • Some people who live off the grid have done it because their land was far from a utility line and for the thousands of dollars that it cost to run a line to their property, they could pay for their own system which would save them money in the long run and provide better reliability. They usually choose very efficient appliances and are frugal with their energy use. Others just want to be free of the “system”.

          I think you are right that if a utility supplied many of these options to their customers many more would adopt them. We know that convenience makes buying easier. Some people are concerned that this crowds out other companies. They say that utilities have an unfair advantage over others because they are guaranteed a return on their investment when other companies are not. I think once we decide we want to promote something in Virginia, we could figure out a good way to do it.

          Dominion is reluctant to open the door to renewables because it would lower their revenues. As long as they (and the SCC) continue with a 20th century approach to our energy system, they are correct. But the market will bring these choices sooner or later, unless they ban them (which would greatly harm Virginia’s economy and long term competitiveness). Other states are finding ways to provide an active market for consumer choices and a way to keep utilities healthy. We should begin that discussion here before we get too far behind.

  9. As long as Dominion controls the legislature, there will be no Utopian power grid of solar cells on homeowner rooftops. Dominion’s idea of solar is behind a tall fence, guarded by Dominion cops.

    • Darrell, you are onto something. Dominion will not allow rooftop to drive any of its facilities out of the money.

      That said, there really is little in Virginia law to keep any homeowner from installing his own solar rooftop system. He just has to foot his own bill and not expect to “lean” on his fellow tax- or ratepayers to subsidize him.

  10. re: “I guess you are right, the greatest obstacle to people wanting to bypass the local power company is when the local power company provides its services at such a cheap price that nobody can beat it. So, throw me in that “briar patch.” ”

    that’s totally true – right now.

    what happens if :

    1. – the price of natural gas skyrockets?
    2. – the price of solar and solar integrated systems plummets?

    is there a possibility of either of these in the next 25 years?

    if that might happen – what would be the response of the utility?

    what would the utility do as people reduced their consumption of electricity – but still relied on it but at a lower level or for backup?

    so my question essentially was – what is Dominion’s “plan” if 1. or 2 or both happen and is that a legitimate question for people besides Dominion right now?

  11. I’m puzzled by comments which seem to consider solar as a minor factor for energy production that might have value “someday”. Perhaps it is because Virginia is an anomaly compared to other states in its lack of support for renewables and we don’t see the rapid development of solar that is going on elsewhere. The U.S. Solar industry achieved another record year in 2014, growing by 34% over 2013 to install nearly 7,000 megawatts (MW) of solar electric capacity. Within the photovoltaic (PV) sector, over 6,200 MW of capacity was installed, led by the residential and utility segments, which grew by 51% and 38%, respectively.

    In 2104 the solar industry installed 32% of all new electricity generating capacity in the U.S. – second only to natural gas.

    About 20,000 MW more solar capacity is forecast to come online by the end of 2016, doubling the country’s existing solar capacity. Growth is expected to be broad-based, with more than 16 states expected to add more than 100 MW in 2016, up from 9 states in 2014. However, with the upcoming expiration and reduction of the Investment Tax Credit, additions of new solar capacity is expected to decline by 57% in 2017 compared to 2016.

    • Solar used to be non-partisan but now it has taken on partisan vibes that generally align on how folks feel about subsidies (even as they ignore the ones that already exist), how they feel about the environment, the EPA, and global warming.

      I would dare say most of the GOP in the VA GA take a dim view of solar – pun intended and we KNOW the SCC does -they make the case over and over that solar is not “economic”.. it will INCREASE ratepayer bills!

      this is really the second coming of solar. the first coming was back in the 80’s ( I think) where folks put it on the roof with tubes containing circulating liquid… many of those systems came down when the roofs were replaced.

      • Other “red” states are moving forward with renewables because they are good business people and see the advantage of affordable energy and its role in creating an attractive business climate.

        Although solar does have a “green” advantage, our focus should be on moving forward with a mix of generation types, including energy savings which would create a system with the lowest cost and greatest reliability. When people are free to choose, usually a good system results. We should not just consider costs now, but the possibility of future fuel cost increases and other factors such as changes in military base use, economic downturns due to stock and currency declines, etc. This should be a statewide discussion not just a conversation between Dominion and the SCC. Jobs and the long-term health of the state economy are at stake. The preferences of a utility are important considerations but they are granted monopoly status in order to serve the needs of the people at the lowest cost.

        • One of the things the govt does not get credit for that industry does not do well – is strategic thinking –

          more and more corporations are forced into shorter term goals and to not invest heavily in R&D per se. The govt typically does these things.

          longer term – subsidies for solar make sense because we do know that they have a substantial future at some point. Short term from an industry perspective – without govt support and encouragement – or sometimes even with it – industry sees it as taking away from their shorter term bottom line.

          People say that industry would have “eventually” developed GPS which is a game-changing technology – but I’m not sure.

          and no one was willing to let the utilities develop nuclear power on their own..nor would they trust it now. The govt sets the standards for safety.

          Industry dropped clean coal after the govt got out of it.

          self-driving cars – originally came from DARPA –

          packet-switching – ” History
          In the late 1950s, the US Air Force established a wide area network for the Semi-Automatic Ground Environment (SAGE) radar defense system. They sought a systems that was survivable during nuclear attack to enable a response, thus diminishing the attractiveness of the first strike advantage by enemies.

          Leonard Kleinrock conducted early research in queueing theory which proved important in packet switching, and published a book in the related field of digital message switching (without the packets) in 1961; he also later played a leading role in building and management of the world’s first packet-switched network, the ARPANET.

          so my point is that despite no shortage of govt bashing especially from conservatives these days- the govt plays a pivotal role in advancing technology.

    • Not really surprising that solar is second only to gas–what are the alternatives? No one is building coal units and there are only 3 or 4 nuclear units in construction. Solar is coming on, but it is still far behind nat gas.

      Maybe surprising that it has surpassed wind.

  12. In a miniscule way many of us are inching our way into the solar age without even realizing it. My flagpole, deck, and gardens are solar lit. How much longer before the laptop I’m on is also? Or my hedge trimmer?

    Did outdoor solar lighting come about in such a way as to slightly slow the demand on the grid or was it the other way around; was this new load that would never have made it’s way to the grid anyway?

  13. Jim, here’s an event you might want to run up I-95 on Thursday to take in:

    • I am always intrigued that we seem to seek the most expensive and complex solutions. Einstein said “We should always seek to make things as simple as possible, but no simpler”.

      If we simply changed the way we raised livestock in the U.S., we would solve most of our CO2 problem and reduce our healthcare costs. If had widespread adoption of pasture raised, mob-stocked beef cattle in the U.S. we would sequester most of the carbon we have released since the industrial age. This means raising them in the way herbivores natural graze in the wild. They eat the 30% of the most nutritious portion of the grass and trample the rest (weeds included). Mixed with manure, carbon from the plants is rapidly reincorporated in the soil, year after year, where it contributes to more healthy pasture each year. Cattle are designed to eat grass not grain, so they don’t get sick and require massive doses of antibiotics (which increase the incidence of antibiotic resistant pathogens).

      Meat from these animals has a healthy ratio of Omega 3 to Omega 6 fatty acids (not like the inflammation causing 1:20+ ratios in grain fed cattle). They also provide CLA which has been proved to reduce cardiovascular disease.

      If we pastured our beef cattle for their full life cycle in Virginia rather than sending them off to western feedlots, we would add hundreds of millions to our agricultural revenues each year. The cost of meat would be higher, but our total costs would be lower. And the 10% of the corporate farmers who get 80% of our agricultural subsidies would have a bit less income.

      Who knew that cattle were the solution for the CPP?

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